• Kyodo

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Japan is set to outperform all of its previous medal-winning efforts at the upcoming Tokyo Games, according to Olympic analyst Gracenote Sports, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the sporting calendar has made picking winners a tougher task than usual.

In its traditional medal table projection released 100 days before the games, the sports data firm says the Japanese team is tracking toward a top-four finish, behind only the United States, China and the Russian Olympic Committee, as Russia’s doping ban-impacted team will be known.

Whether the host nation can meet the forecast of a 40% improvement over the Rio Olympics, or finish even higher up the medal table, depends on which Russian athletes will be permitted to compete, Gracenote says.

“The prognosis for Russia is based on all Russian competitors ranked in the top three of our virtual medal table being permitted to compete. If this is not the case, the number of medals forecast for Russia will reduce, making the chance of third place on the medal table for Japan greater,” said Simon Gleave, Gracenote’s head of analysis.

Of the 59 medals the Netherlands-based sports data company has put on Japan’s tab, 34 are predicted to be gold.

Swimmer Daiya Seto is Gracenote’s gold-medal favorite in three events — the 200-meter butterfly and the 200 and 400 individual medley races — putting him in a prominent position just seven months removed from a competition ban imposed in response to revelations of his involvement in an extramarital affair.

Seto and his swimming teammates could be a source of 10 total medals, with Ippei Watanabe in the men’s 200 breaststroke and three relay teams predicted to reach the top step of the podium at the Tokyo Aquatics Center.

The prognostication could not find room for a fairytale individual Olympic medal for leukemia survivor Rikako Ikee, however, with Gleave saying her lack of competition data makes predicting her performances nearly impossible.

“Rikako Ikee is one of those rare examples of a competitor to win a top country’s national qualifying events who has little to no data,” he said.

“However, we already have Japan in the projected gold medal position for the 4×100 medley relay in which she is expected to compete.”

Unsurprisingly, the famed Nippon Budokan — set to host Olympic judo events — is likely to be Japan’s most fertile ground for medals, with judoka forecast to take 13 of the 15 gold medals on offer, according to the company’s medal table.

In the 20-kilometer race walk, Japan could see a podium sweep with Toshikazu Yamanishi, Eiki Takahashi and Koki Ikeda predicted to finish on the top three steps, respectively.

Of the new sports added to the Olympic program for Tokyo, Japanese fans should look to skateboard for great results, with Sakura Yosozumi tipped for park gold and Aori Nishimura for the street win. Japanese sport climbers and karateka should also deliver multiple medals.

Gleave said predicting the Tokyo Games was more difficult than any previous Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He pointed to the lack of data in the 17 months since the postponement announcement as being a particular problem, but also the fact athletes are a year older means they may have moved into, or out of, their competitive primes.

“The unknown impact of the pandemic on training and preparation, the effect of having fewer or no spectators in the stadiums and the difference in the way an Olympic Games will be run this time” makes picking results more complicated, Gleave said.

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